Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tell me a good story, and I'll be a friend for life. Leo J Part 2

In this fast paced world where everyone is plugged in to electronic devices, rushing around in cars and  thinking about everything but the here and now, I love to be told a good story.  No matter the length or topic--although I do prefer it to be non fiction--and you'll capture my attention.  Set the story to music and you'll witness me go into a state not unlike a child being sung a lullaby.

There isn't a time I can remember when I didn't like to be told stories.  I feel I can thank my mother for this wonderful gift.  As a child, she read to me every night,  and during the day, she would tame the savage beast all children can be, by playing me folk music.  To this day, I can probably recite 90% of Bob Dylan's, Joni Mitchell's, Leonard Cohen's and Cat Stevens' stories for you.

As I got older--much too old to be read bedtime stories--and moved out on my own, I had to find other's stories to fill the void.  Part of my desire to travel the world, as a woman in her teens and twenties, was really just to meet different people and hopefully catch a glimpse through their eyes.  Funny thing was as I travelled, and moved around the country, I began to realize I had a connection with everyone.  Through the stories they would tell me, I often felt a sense of "home".  When I slowed down and began traveling and commuting primarily by bike vs. car or airplane,  these connections began flowing towards me at a much more rapid pace.  Most of the time, I would encounter just a really cool person who would get me to view the world in a different way.  Sometimes, I would come across a kindred spirit.  Someone I felt I knew forever and felt instantly at ease with.  It is those people, and the stories they told me, I keep in an invisible dark purple velvet pouch in my mind.  A mobile treasure chest if you will.  Many of these people I will never see again, and yet, I can always open up this pouch and pull their insight out any time I feel lost or disconnected from the world.

One of these people I met a couple months ago, not long after I finished a challenging bike tour.  Joel Shupack, also known as Leo J, and I only had a few brief hours to get to know each other.  He stopped in Madison while on a musical bike tour--you can read about his music, tour and our meeting here.  Since he left Madison, I have followed his blog to see how things were going for him.  Okay, to be honest, I followed his posts to be told stories.  I believe everyone can be a storyteller, however, some are brilliantly gifted at it.  Joel, is a brilliant storyteller.

I left my last piece about Leo J open ended.  I had sent him questions to answer, but the life of a traveling folk singer is tough.  Add the fact he travels unsupported on two wheels makes it even tougher.  I knew he'd answer when he could and when I opened my e-mail today, Halloween, I received his answers--most certainly a treat.  Enjoy his answers and please check out his blog to be told some amazing stories!

1)  What is one of your fondest bicycle memories?

What comes to mind was something that happened pretty recently. When I reached the city of Detroit, my hosts told me of a weekly bicycle ride that I should check out called the Slow Roll. What a lot of people don't know about Detroit is that, while full of abandoned buildings and economic devastation, it's also attracting a lot of creative thinkers and young artists from other areas. I imagined I'd see a group of young white hipsters on single-speeds.

The first rider I met was Larry, a middle-aged black man who sells bottled water on the street and is a recovered heroin addict. He pulled up to me on a rattly old Huffy a few blocks from where the ride began. "You know where the Slow Roll meets?" he asked. I was shocked. This guy is going to the Slow Roll?

We became quick friends, I treated him to a pastry (he loves a good cheese Danish) and we made our way to the Slow Roll. The street soon filled with hundreds of people, then well over a thousand. Yes, there were hipsters, but they were just a piece of the overall scene. A lot of the riders were members of black bike clubs, riding cruisers pimped-out with sounds systems and lights. Some had club names sewed onto jackets, one I remember was GMOB - "Grown Men on Bikes". Older folks, kids, rich, poor, fat, fit, you name it. Basically every demographic you can imagine was represented and everyone was getting along.
Maybe this type of thing exists in other cities, but I've never seen anything like it. People use bikes for a lot of different reasons but usually these groups stick to themselves and snub the others - rude roadies, macho mountain bikers, crazy messengers, odd touring cyclists, recumbent weirdos, tall-bike freaks, poor delivery riders. It's rare to see these groups working together for a common goal - they all love Detroit and love to bike.
Slow Roll provides an opportunity for the diverse citizens of a supposedly hopeless city to see and be seen by each other. People that are supposed to be afraid of each other are riding side by side. People like Larry and me. It's a force for transformation and a model for other bicycle communities. I could go on and on, but I encourage you to check out them out:

2)  What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you on this tour?

Probably that I was treated with kindness, curiosity and generosity by almost every single person I came across. That's not the America I keep hearing about in fear-mongering publications. I was always half-expecting a crazed yahoo to come running after me with a shotgun when I attempted to camp on his land. Out West, I camped most night and mainly on the property of strangers after knocking on the front door and asking permission. I was never really turned down and sometimes treated to dinner.

It was also strange that a bee flew in my left ear and caused me to lose control and crash in Northern Idaho. I almost cancelled the tour after being so rattled by a tiny insect. It's just a reminder that we really don't have very much control over anything. This works both ways, of course. My most memorable experiences are usually when I was unprepared and without a plan. I was taken in by a Christian missionary camp on an Indian Reservation. They fed me steak, we played volleyball, I even performed one of my songs in their Sunday worship service. I'm not a Christian and don't agree with missionary works, especially on an Indian Reservation, but none of that mattered. We all shared something and grew from it.
Abandon control and the real magic begins...

3)  Which musical artists inspire you?

I'm a folkie at heart, which I get from my mother. I'm a sucker for tight harmonies and great lyrics. I love old bluegrass duos, like the Louvin Brothers or modern incarnations like Pharis and Jason Romero (a married couple who also build and sell banjos). I love music that has a social purpose. Not protest songs, but music for folk dances, music that's inclusive, music everyone can sing along to.
I'm a songwriter, so I also look to other writers for inspiration. I'm a pretty tough critic, but Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Ana├»s Mitchell, John Prine come to mind. Masters of the craft that can create music that is original and meaningful.

Again, I'm very interested in music as an inclusive force, a force for peace and community. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax are great figures in this camp. Lomax was a great documenter of folk traditions, which is what I'm trying to do, just in a different context.
My newest love is a guy named George Heritier. He's an old folksinger from the Detroit area. He has a great song called "Locavoria". I just found him last night in fact. I'm always trying to find musical kindred spirits.

4)  You talked to me about having the dream of opening a bike hotel/motel/campground and of having a family, where does music fit into this dream and where would you like to take your music?

I'd love to incorporate a music venue/community center into whatever venture I got myself involved in. Traveling cyclists need entertainment!
I don't exactly know where I want my music to take me. I'm giving myself this year to explore a touring lifestyle and to give most of my energy and time to my music, but I'm ultimately looking for a more settled life. I'd like to be a part of a community of folk musicians. Singing and playing with others is just about my favorite thing to do. Especially other songwriters. I'd also like to explore playing with a full band. There's an energy that a group of players creates that is irreplaceable and very appealing.

I mean, let's just be honest - I'm really looking for a musical partner that wouldn't mind falling in love with me. I'd like something along the lines of Pharus and Justin Romero or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. My female friends know that I can't sing harmonies with someone and not fall clear in love. May as well not fight against that instinct, right? Maybe she'll play the fiddle, too.

5)  I know you love your Trek 520, but is there any bike you would love to get your hands on if money wasn't an issue?

I do love Will, my touring bike. He's the only bike I've had for the last 8 years. A total workhorse and a good sport. But, I'd sure love a bamboo frame mountain bike. Seems there's more and more companies doing bamboo frames. They're absolutely beautiful and supposedly a very smooth ride.
I was never interested in mountain biking until this year when I was invited to compete in a cyclocross race in Kalamazoo. I borrowed some knobby tires and did a practice ride on a single-track trail and really loved it.

I fared terribly in the race, 31 out of 34 finishers.

Slow and steady might get you across the United States, but it won't win you a cyclocross race.

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